Sara Blakely, Founder and Owner of Spanx
Like so many women, I didn’t like the way my butt looked in white pants and I couldn’t find the right undergarment to solve the problem.
At the time, all of the shapewear options on the market were thick, bulky and left visible lines or bulges under clothes. Regular underwear left a panty line, and the thong just put underwear where we’d been trying to get it out of!
Desperate to come up with a solution, I cut the feet out of my control top pantyhose and wore them underneath. The only problem was they kept rolling up my legs all night. I thought, "I’ve got to figure out how to make this!:
I knew if I was looking for this product, other women were too.
Starting out with $5,000 in savings meant finding creative ways to keep costs down. After weeks of researching at the Georgia Tech Library (at nights after work), I wrote the patent myself and later found a lawyer who helped write the claims portion.
My patent was approved, and I successfully trademarked the name SPANX online. The original product drawing for the SPANX patent was sketched by my mom, an artist.
I researched hosiery manufacturers on the internet and made several calls. The prototype took a year to perfect because as someone who wanted to wear the product every day, I was obsessed with comfort.
I put my own butt on the line for my first sale when I asked the buyer at Neiman Marcus in Dallas to follow me to the ladies room where I gave her a before and after fashion show in my cream pants. Three weeks later SPANX was on the shelves of Neiman Marcus!
I then called all my friends and begged them to go to Neiman's and buy them up. At just the moment I was running out of friends, Spanx caught on and Oprah called. (I had sent a gift basket of my first Spanx to Oprah and she chose them as one of her “favorite things” in 2000 just 1 month after I officially started my business).
Since then, Spanx has expanded in more ways that I could have ever imagined. We’ve grown to include 200 products; from footless pantyhose to foundations (launching our first bra, Bra-llelujah! in 2008), to swimsuits and active wear, to SPANX for Men. We’re also broadening our reach globally: Spanx products are available in more than 40 countries and counting.
Thanks to the success of Spanx, we were able to launch the Sara Blakely Foundation. Spanx and Assets (our second “baby” found mostly at Target) has donated over $17 million.
Our passion is helping more than just women’s butts. We want to give women the resources they need to realize their full potential through education and entrepreneurial support. I feel so lucky to be a woman in America and to have had the opportunity to succeed the way that I have.
That gratitude more than anything drives me to succeed. My dream is that one day very soon women everywhere will have that same opportunity. We started our Leg Up program to give female entrepreneurs the boost they need to launch their own businesses.
We feature these women and their businesses/products in our catalog and on our website that goes out to over 1 million women. I truly believe women helping other women creates good karma. It’s a small way for me to pay my good fortune forward and help these entrepreneurs get the word out about their endeavors.
More than 10 years after it all began, we’re still dedicated to making the world a better place—not just one butt at a time, but one woman at a time. I share my story in hopes of inspiring women to trust their gut, follow their heart, and turn their dreams into reality.
Here are a few tips that I hope will do just that -- my “Don’t” List for New Entrepreneurs. They’re just as important as the “Do’s”!
Don’t Share too Soon
I kept my crazy idea from my friends and family for a year. Ideas are the most vulnerable in their infancy. Family and friends often express concern or doubts (out of love) that can stop people dead in their tracks. Share once you’ve invested enough of yourself in it, to the point when you know there is no turning back. If you share too soon, ego has to get involved and you will spend more time explaining and defending your idea rather than pursuing it. But definitely tell the people that can help move your idea forward.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
In the two years it took me to develop Spanx, I kept my job selling fax machines. I worked on my idea at night, during lunch break, and on the weekends. I didn’t want to lose my only source of income until I knew I had the perfect product.
Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
My dad taught me early on that failure isn’t the outcome, it’s not trying. That changed my perception of the word and my perception of the action. Failures lead to new opportunities. If I’d never failed the LSAT (law school entrance exam), I would never have started Spanx. When I took the idea of Spanx to manufacturers, I must have heard the word “no” a thousand times, but I believed in myself and my product, and refused to give up.
And most importantly: If you truly believe in your idea, don’t ever give up!
Sara Blakely is the founder and owner of Spanx. Obsessed with creating comfortable, slimming garments that minimize figure flaws, Sara has created more than 200 problem-solving products for women and men. Remaining self-funded and profitable ever since Sara used her own savings to start the company, Spanx continues to show incredible growth, and in March of 2012 Sara was featured on the cover of Forbes Magazine’s Billionaires issue as the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. Sara and her husband Jesse reside in Atlanta and New York with their son Lazer.